Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Make Crime Pay

Merit Pay -- A Proposal for the City 

I have found the solution to the crime problem.

It astonishes me that no one has thought of this before.  You would think with all the people studying crime, we’d have thought of this by now.  We study crime rates, causes of crime, solutions for crime, punishments for crime, and ways of coping and preventing crime.  We categorize crimes into things like domestic crimes, state crimes, capital crimes, felonies, misdemeanors, and all kinds of degrees of crime.

And with all this, no one has thought of this clear and simple solution.  Until now.  I first learned about it while searching the internet for answers to life’s puzzles.  While mired in a sudoku, I happened to see a headline about a program being studied in several major cities.  I now wholeheartedly endorse it, and will summarize the best aspects of their presentation for you.

The Answer
The solution to the crime problem is to hold the police accountable for it.

Think about your city or town, or whatever large metropolitan area is closest to you.  Consider its various rates of crimes for all the types listed above that we have exhaustively studied, categorized, and tracked for the last several decades.  Now imagine what would happen if all the cops in your city buckled down and did their best work.  Imagine a system that weeds out incompetence, and pays the best ones more money.

If the crime in one precinct goes down over the course of two years, then those cops get raises.  Likewise, if crime goes up in a precinct, then specific improvement plans are put in place to help those officers get back on track.  This system can be applied not only to specific officers, but also on a precinct, city, county, or even state level, if need be.  It uses a measure called the Law Abiding Index Measure, or LAIM.  It’s basically a Report Card for the specific entity, so the public can easily make comparisons and digest the information without having to think.

Crime is a problem.  Parents fear for the safety of their children as they walk down the street to buy new iPod batteries.  Churches struggle to fight vandalism while also trying to turn the other cheek.  Businesses in crime-ridden neighborhoods have to spend money on security, rather than profiting off all the latest and hottest imports from China.  Families suffer domestic violence and abuse from absent fathers.

Recent studies have made clear that crime, for all its destructiveness, is at its lowest levels in communities with effective police officers.  Therefore, if we can increase the level of performance of police officers in communities with higher crime rates, we will finally break the stranglehold of crime in these ravaged cities and neighborhoods.

When compared to other nations, the U.S. averages fourteen times the number of drunk driving arrests per year, for example.  In a four month period last year, in fact, Luxembourg had only 86 such arrests, while the U.S. had over 25,000.  These and other statistics make clear that we have a crisis of crime in this nation, and efforts up to this time have failed to stem the tidal wave of crime as it crashes over struggling communities.  We are raising a generation that will see more crimes than any other generation before it.

As it reaches epidemic proportions, a few courageous cities have taken action, and are considering implementing our new system.  Despite objections from opponents of change, this visionary system promises revolutionary changes in how police precincts do business, and finally holds the people accountable who have the most influence over the citizenry: police officers.

Again, as the research shows, communities with low crime have some of the most effective police officers.  These officers exhibit the following qualities:
  • Higher average length of employment
  • Strong community support and reputation
  • Low incidence of police brutality
  • Racial harmony
  • Low rates of crime in most major categories
  • Higher ratios of tickets/citizen
  • Contentment at work
For example, one Seattle suburb called Mercer Island had virtually zero drunk driving arrests in 2010, few property crimes, and almost zero violent crimes.  Interestingly, its police officers also exhibit most of the qualities listed above.  Police in the nearby Rainier Valley, conversely, struggle in many of those areas, and most officers in that area also make far more arrests than the ones on Mercer Island.  Thus, high crime is caused by ineffective police officers.

As you can see, if these qualities could be encouraged in officers around the country, we would see crime rates plummet.  Officers who demonstrate effectiveness in these areas should be rewarded, and those who don’t should be forced to attend professional improvement training seminars.  If no improvement is shown after a fair amount of time, they should be let go.

Of all these qualities, we have found that “low rates of crime” is the strongest indicator of an officer’s effectiveness.  In other words, officers who made the fewest arrests also were more content at work, did not exhibit police brutality, stayed at work for more years, and had strong reputations in the community, including across racial lines.  The statistics hold true even when controlling for age.

Therefore, we have devised a system that seeks to evaluate police officers based upon the levels of crime in the areas under their supervision.  This applies to highway cops, detectives, and patrol officers.  It applies to police chiefs, rookies, and everyone in between.  Even the custodians and cafeteria workers at police precincts can be held accountable under a modified system.  Research shows that officers who work in dirty, unkempt precincts also tend to work in places with higher crime rates.

So, we now present the Police Officer Merit Evaluation System.

Because crime is such a diverse topic, it’s not really fair to lump all crimes into one category.  An officer might effectively manage property crimes, for example, but struggle with domestic quarrels.  So, POMES breaks it down into smaller groupings, called Protocols of Malfeasance.  Each receives its own statistical indicator. 

These POMs include headings such as:
Commerce (crimes that occur in the course of doing business)
Relational (crimes that occur within families)
Violence (crimes where one person deliberately hurts another)
Vehicular (crimes where a vehicle is involved)
Substantive (crimes of substance)
Property (crimes involving personal property)

Additional POMs are being formulated as the program develops, and these are subject to change pending further study and in light of feedback we receive once we start implementing the system.  As you know, you can’t implement a system such as this if you already know how it will work.  You have to implement it first, and then figure out how it works as you go.

We anticipate, obviously, some initial confusion over the POM groupings.  For example, suppose you have a husband and wife who run their own business, and in the course of the regularly scheduled union-approved work day, the husband discovers his wife has found out about his laundering of drug money through their business, and she plans to inform the police. So, in a drunken rage, he runs her over with his company car and in the process smashes into the side of a nearby tanning salon.

As you can see, this crime potentially fits into all six POM categories listed above.  So, the question of how to classify such an act will fall to the POM Classification Committee, an appointed board of seven citizens, comprised of three Democrats and three Republicans, with one non-partisan elected chair limited to three two-year terms.

Because of the urgency of implementation (we can’t allow crime to continue under the status quo; all future crimes need to take place within the POMES context), our current plan is to place a crime such as this into every category to which it applies.  After all, this crime affects society in all six of these areas, and will accrue legal, structural, and insurance costs from a variety of sources.  As such, a precinct, city, county, or state should be held accountable for all the ways this crime affects them.

Another possible confusion might stem from the unclear nature of some of the descriptive words used.  For example, “Violent crime” includes any crime where one person hurts another deliberately. The question of what constitutes “hurt” has yet to be determined.  By the second year of implementation, the Descriptive Clarity Board, a task force comprised of volunteers and appointed citizens such as judges, lawyers, business leaders, community activists, and firefighters will produce the Term Clarification Report, a detailed document describing in lawyer-specific yet accessible language the meaning of all terms classified as vague, or protested by anyone from the community at one of our planned Community Input Meetings.  This document will be available for download on our website, in word or as a powerpoint slideshow (viewable on your iPod if you download the app from the iStore, once it becomes available).

Again, we understand some of these words are vague.  Does a vehicle being “involved” mean it has to be actively used in the act of the crime, or does it just have to be present?  Suppose a drug dealer parks his car, crosses the street, and then sells dope to an undercover officer.  Clearly this is a Substantive crime, but does his car being driven to the site of the illegal act qualify it as being “involved?”  Now, obviously, if he were to park in a handicapped spot, the answer would be yes.  But the point here for now is that these and other questions will all be dealt with by the DCB as it drafts the TCR after the CIM input, and the POM list will be amended as appropriate. At that time the POMCC would be able to revise its classification, further enhancing the effectiveness of the LAIM as it is implemented across the state.

Each police officer will be individually evaluated and given a LAIM score based upon the number and frequency of crimes committed under each POM category over a two year period.  After two years of monitoring the LAIM scores, it will be determined if the overall score has increased or decreased.  Using a complicated statistical technique developed by UW scientists with a grant from the Alliance for a More Peaceful Community, each POM category will be factored into the overall LAIM score.  Then based on the measure of change in each officer’s score, the officer’s salary will be adjusted accordingly.

For example, suppose at the beginning of the two-year cycle, the data in the following table has been measured in the precinct patrolled by Officers X and Y.  Officer X is entering a fourth year of work, and Officer Y has just completed a sixteenth.  Since they work in the same precinct, it’s a fair comparison.  (At this point, we recognize these numbers mean nothing to you, but you can be certain we have a definitive, effective, reliable method for calculating them, and this method removes ethnic bias, limits geographical and social disproportionality variables, and accounts for years of service and level of experience).

LAIM Score:              X: 14.3                     Y: 21.7                  X: 14.9                 Y: 18.4

From this simple example, it is clear that Officer X is a much more effective enforcer of the public good than Officer Y.  In X’s two-year period, while the Relational POM score almost doubled and the Property POM increased slightly, the Vehicular, Substantive, and Violence scores all decreased, and the Commerce held steady.

In contrast, Officer Y’s Relational POM score tripled, and the Vehicular score almost quadrupled.  All scores except Commerce increased for Officer Y.  And except for Violence, but the new Violence score is still well above Officer X.

The LAIM scores for each year make it clear how the system works.  X’s score increased slightly, and thus X would receive a slight increase in pay, because the community is more orderly under X’s supervision.  While Officer Y still has a higher score, the decrease is substantial, and Y’s compensation would decrease accordingly.

The trend here suggests that Officer Y, though previously quite effective, probably is losing motivation to continue performing at previous levels.  It’s also possible that 16 years on the job in a challenging community is taking it’s toll, and a change in environment might do some good. Either way, Officer Y may be in need of professional development to help recapture the excellence previously seen.

With the LAIM score directly tied to the disaggregated POM data, this new measure of accountability can be aligned with the pay scale, factoring in for years of experience and level of education, to produce a fair system of compensation for our hard-working police officers.

Further, officers will be able to set goals for improvement, and they must target them to specific POMs.  Meeting or exceeding goals results in bonus pay.  These SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, results-oriented, and timely, meaning that when officers meet them, we can be certain that substantial improvements in the community have been accomplished.

With this system in place, we no longer have to stand by while deadbeat officers take up spots in the employment ranks while highly motivated new officers struggle to stay employed under the continual budget problems encountered by local governments.  We can look forward to raising the level of performance and accountability, and expect to see a corresponding drop in all levels of crime.

Since it is clear that police officers are the number one factor in determining the quality of a community with respect to crime, this system ensures that our police forces will maximize their talents and effectiveness, and crime will decline.

As you may have noticed, this system has some similarities to ones being proposed in certain states and cities for the education system.  Michelle Rhee, an expert in educational excellence and former superintendent of Washington D.C. schools, was quoted as saying, “The POMES tool is a superb method, based on strict protocols and measurable performance standards, and is a vital step for any community struggling to overcome stagnantly high crime levels.  It’s a great example of what happens when citizens finally take charge of their communities and stop letting bureaucrats and entrenched special interests maintain the status quo.”

Since similar systems being utilized in the education system are working so well, we can expect with confidence and optimism that POMES will produce equally great results in law enforcement.

Don’t let the naysayers confuse you with talk about uncontrollable variables, or unfair comparisons, or distortions about how officers feel about this proposal.  Most police officers we surveyed wholeheartedly supported the idea of lower crime.  So write your congressman today and inform them of your passionate support for POMES.  Let’s “Make Crime Pay” for the right people – our hard-working, most effective police officers.

(By the way, a good story in a similar vein can be found at this link from Huffington Post):

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